The Razorbacks (2-2, 0-2) will host No. 17 Auburn (5-0, 2-0) Saturday at 11 a.m. in a match-up that will be nationally televised from Fayetteville by ESPN.
The contest comes after blowing out previously unbeaten Texas A&M 47-19 in Arlington at a Dallas Cowboys Stadium where a crowd of 71,872 fans was pretty evenly divided.
"The trip to Dallas was a great experience for us," Petrino said. "It was exciting venue to play. As we were warming up before the game it had a bowl atmosphere to it. I'd like to thank our fans and all our supporters who showed up. It was a great crowd. I felt like that we equaled their crowd and that was a great deal.
"Offensively, we got off to a slow start," Petrino added, "but after the first three series we executed and made plays and really did a much better job of understanding what they were trying to do, what their great pass rusher (Von Miller) was trying to do. We finished the game up the way I like to finish the game up, that's being able to run the ball well in the late third quarter, fourth quarter."
The same could be said for the defense, which gave up 10 early points and could have given up more if not for a dropped Aggie pass that likely would have resulted in a score.
"Defensively, we gave up some yards," Petrino said of the 458 the Razorbacks allowed. "We put a lot of pressure on their quarterback. We really hit him. I think maybe the difference in the game was how many times we hit their quarterback. And we held a team that had been scoring a lot of points to about half of what their average is, which is a good thing.
"(Defensive end) Tenarius Wright had a great game for us," Petrino added. "He really played well. You get named SEC defensive lineman of the week, which was a good deal. There were a lot of positives that came out of the game, now we've got to get ready for Auburn."
Petrino made no bones about how winning in Dallas was the key after suffering losses to SEC foes Georgia and Alabama.
"I thought it was crucial for us," Petrino said. "We needed to go down there, like we said last week, and get a win and get our confidence back and play well. And we got that mission accomplished. Now we've got to get ready for this week."
The Tigers are fresh off a 26-22 win at Tennessee – their first road game of the season.
Their offensive coordinator is former Shiloh Christian and Springdale head coach and University of Arkansas assistant Gus Malzahn, whose squad is averaging 41.4 points and 512 yards total offense per game.
It's a balanced offense with 259 yards passing and 253 yards rushing on average.
"Auburn is playing well and their offense has been scoring a lot of points, running the ball real well," Petrino said. "They're doing an excellent job of running the ball. We have to be able to stop the run, put some pressure on their quarterback to win the game. Auburn always plays good defense. They're very sound and very fast."
While both Texas A&M and Auburn both run no-huddle offenses, the Tigers lean far more heavily on the run than the Aggies.
"We'll get some carryover in the no huddle, the tempo, how we practiced a week ago," Petrino said. "Scheme wise is not a lot of carryover. They're a lot different as far as the ways they like to run the football."
Since Malzahn was at Tulsa last season and Arkansas played the Golden Hurricane, there is some familiarity.
"There's a lot of similarities to what they're doing at Tulsa, a lot of similarities in formations, run, how they attack," Petrino said. "That definitely is something that we've looked at."
Auburn's Ben Tate and Ontario McCalebb have been workhorses on the ground with Mario Fannin also getting work.
"That's what they're doing," Petrino said. "They're running the ball. They're doing a good job of utilizing their strengths. They've got two good running backs. They're calling them a fullback, but he's another running back that can catch the ball and played wide receiver some last year. The Fannin kid is a real good player. They utilize those guys, they run reverses, they run misdirections. So the ability to be disciplined with your eyes and understand what the blocking schemes are and then react to the misdirection is what we have to do."
Petrino and Tigers head coach Gene Chizik coached on the same staff at Auburn for one year in 2002.
Chizik, whose hire was not popular with the fan base, has now won as many games at Auburn in his first five contests as he did in two years at Iowa State.
"I imagine they're smiling now," Petrino said of the AU fans. "Chizik is a great person. Unbelievable family. He has twin daughters that used to come up to the office and were as cute as you could ever be around. And he's a great defensive football coach. When I was with him, we played awesome defense and they did the years after that at Auburn. Always very sound, very speed oriented. He's a good person and a great coach."
Speaking of defense, Petrino believes the Arkansas one improved after some early struggles against the Aggies.
"We grew up and got better," Petrino said. "I think it started with our pass rush. It was a different style of game. It was a lot of throwing and a lot of scrambling by that quarterback."
Chris Todd has settled in as the quarterback at Auburn with former Fort Smith Northside star Kodi Burns now a wideout.
"It changes style this week," Petrino said. "This week we'll find out how we are stopping the run. We need to play a complete defense in stopping the run and being able to control their screens and quick passing game that they utilize. I think that's where they're a little different than they were a year ago at Tulsa. They (Tulsa) had a quarterback that really threw the ball down the field. They would take maybe three or four deep shots a quarter. They (Auburn) seem to be more into the control, get lots of completions and not throwing interceptions this year."
Indeed Todd has 13 touchdown passes and just one interception this season behind an offensive line led by Rogers native Lee Ziemba.
"He's done a great job of executing their offense," Petrino said. "He's got 12 touchdown passes or 13 and one interception. So he's taking care of the ball, he's distributing where they want him to distribute it. And he's had very good time. They're doing a nice job with their protection schemes and not getting guys on him. So we've got to try to get some pressure on him and hit him. See if we can get him in some third and long situations."
Burns has 30 carries for 83 yards and four touchdowns this season, completed 3 of 7 passes for 46 yards and a score, and caught two passes for 10 yards.
"They line him up some in the backfield and run the ball with him," Petrino said. "They'll run reverses. We've got to be ready for possible reverse pass. He plays some receiver. So he's a receiver really now that goes in the backfield some and does some quarterback runs."
Petrino noted that true freshman Ronnie Wingo is due for increased work in this game after his 4 carries netted 86 yards on Saturday.
Upperclassman Michael Smith and Broderick Green got the early work and Wingo and fellow freshman Knile Davis finished things off.
"He's done a nice job," Petrino said of Wingo. "I went back today and watched all the runs of all the running backs because we do have some decisions to make on how we split up the reps. (Fellow true freshman) Knile Davis has done a nice job of running the ball. He has been very physical. so those four guys and Dennis (Johnson), he was out. So he didn't get any touches."
One of Wingo's runs was a scintillating 62-yard TD run in the fourth quarter that was clearly a team effort per Petrino.
"We had some really good blocks on that," Petrino said. "D.J. Williams initially got cut off from blocking his guy and showed great second effort, then ended up getting him and driving him. That's when Ronnie cut back behind him, which was a great touchdown block. Jarius Wright came in and got the safety. Reggie Fish came in and got the other safety. He disappeared so he ended up on the corner and that's how you get long runs, too, is you get good touchdown blocks down the field."
Arkansas had just 14 carries for 15 yards in the opening half before getting its running game going with 17 carries for 148 yards after the break.
"Some of it was the blocking," Petrino said. "Some of it was we weren't hitting the holes. There's some space there that we didn't see and didn't hit. We have to do a better job of finding where it's at, staying behind the push and hugging the wall - we call it - not bouncing out on our own. We have to get better as a whole group of running backs of getting yards after contact."
That's certainly something Wingo did on his first three runs, per Petrino.
"That's really where Wingo separated himself from the other guys," Petrino said. "He got a lot of yards after contact - not even including the long run but the other touches he had in the game. One time he got us 11 yards after contact. Another time he got six or seven after contact. He just is making more yards after contact."
In addition, sophomore "flyback" De'Anthony Curtis had big plays on special teams and in the passing game with two catches for 34 yards and a score.
"De'Anthony does a great job for this team," Petrino said. "He does a lot. He does a great job on special teams. He had an unbelievable tackle on kickoff cover. He grades out as well as anybody. One week he was our special teams player of the week, I think.
"Then he gets in the backfield and he's done a nice job of blocking for our run game back there," Petrino added. "He's caught the ball out of the backfield. He's a guy that we're getting more and more confidence in using."
"Instead of calling him a fullback we call him a flyback," Petrino said. "A guy that can do the same things that a fullback does. It's something when you move a tailback to fullback, you call him a flyback because he doesn't ever want to be a fullback."
Petrino thought Green's play improved, albeit he was made at him for not scoring a touchdown on what look like it was going to be an easy one-yard run off tackle.
"He did some good things," Petrino said. "He's getting better. He's practicing harder. He's showing that he can run more physical. i was upset at him, he didn't get the ball in from the 1 yard line. What i really think is he relaxed on it. He saw the blocking scheme. He thought he was just going to trot in and they had a safety that popped out. He started inside and then popped back out. We tell them all the time run to the back of the end zone and I think maybe he just learned why."
Williams, a preseason All-SEC pick at tight end, did not have any catches in the Texas A&M game while Michael Smith – another all-SEC pick - was limited to 17 yards on 8 carries – but did have five catches for 65 yards and a score.
"That's a hard thing to really balance," Petrino said. "Some of it too is, some of these schools that we've played to this point spent a lot of time in the off-season studying what we did and who got touches and how they could take them away…I think that they've done some things scheme wise to try to take D.J. and Michael away. That's opened up one-on-ones for the receivers and things like that. I think it's kind of both. We've gotten better around them and also that I think they've had time to prepare in the off-season and maybe that was their off-season study."
The fact that starting quarterback Ryan Mallett is more of a downfield weapon than 2008 starter Casey Dick is another factor according to Petrino.
"Ryan has been a guy that's just saw the defense and delivered the ball," Petrino said. "Casey was kind of comfortable with find D.J. and throw him the ball and get the ball to Michael."
Petrino said that Arkansas will find out soon if it will get to add senior wideout London Crawford back into the mix for Auburn.
"We'll find out this week whether he's ready for contact or not," Petrino said. "He did real well last week in the first week back running. He got to catch routes, had no contact. That's all in the doctors and trainers hands. I think that he's scheduled, though, to get another x-ray and see if it's healed enough for contact."
In other injury news, Petrino noted that Dennis Johnson's knee was swollen up after game and that freshman cornerback Darius Winston would have played had he not been hurt late last week in practice.
He said it is too early to know if either would be able to play this week, but they would get action if cleared.
The same goes for safety Tramain Thomas, who was hurt during the game and yielded his time to Elton Ford, who graded out well.
Wade Grayson stepped in as a starting guard last week after being a back-up at both center and guard.
"He ended up starting at guard the other night, played well," Petrino said. "We kept him fresh. So he'll be rotating with Cook at guard and also has to be our backup center. So we have to take one day a week in practice where he takes a lot of reps at center."
As far as special teams, Petrino was pleased with the punt coverage team and punt return except for one fumble by returner Jerell Norton.
He also praised the work of true freshman punter Dylan Breeding and says that Auburn has great special teams and Arkansas must nullify that advantage.
"They're good," Petrino said. "They're fast and they've got good specialists. They kick the ball and punt the ball well. It should be a good battle."